I just reread the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2-3). It’s pretty straightforward, really. God created Adam and Eve and set them up in the Garden of Eden. He gave them only one rule: They could eat of anything in the garden, except God forbade them to eat of one tree in the center of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eating from that tree would be considered disobedience to him. Here they were in paradise--no pain, no problems--perfect people in a perfect place. All they had to do was remain obedient to God’s one requirement. The test seemed pretty easy, frankly. And presumably they knew that God was the creator and that without him, they would not have existed. Even so, they failed--and miserably--first Eve and then Adam. So God kicked them out of paradise, and there’ve been problems ever since. . . So the story goes.
Of course, most people consider the story a myth, a brief allegory serving as metaphor for more serious questions regarding the origins and meaning of sin. One of the important interpretations of the story is that when God created humans he could have made them perfect automatons without freedom of choice, and they would have remained sinless. Instead he gave them free will. Now they could choose to remain obedient or not. And they chose not.
But here’s the thing. If Adam and Eve had been the only ones who failed the test, I might think differently. But everyone ever since has failed. Everyone of an accountable age has made mistakes, done things they wish they hadn’t--sinned, if you will. If things could have gone either way, then the fact that every single human being has failed tells me that the problem is not with us making the wrong choices. The problem is with God, the omnipotent one. He did a terrible job, made a huge blunder in my view. I might feel differently if there were some people who remained obedient, sinless. But every single person a sinner? We never really had a chance. We just weren’t built to pass the test.
Having said that, there is an alternate interpretation, the idea of Original Sin. As I understand it, Adam’s and Eve’s sinning resulted in a fundamental change in humankind. Because of Adam’s and Eve’s original sin, we are born with a sinful nature. It's no longer a level playing field. The argument here is that Adam and Eve did have a fighting chance to remain perfect, but because they in fact failed, we are now different (physically? mentally?) and cannot help but sin. But, frankly, that interpretation doesn’t make me feel any better. Didn’t God in his omniscience see where this was going? And couldn’t he in his omnipotence have done something about it? If Adam and Eve had had a reasonable chance, then why not leave things that way with the thought that some of their descendants would succeed? Why would Adam's and Eve's weakness have to change things for everyone else? Why should we be disadvantaged because of something our ancestors did?
Of course, there is another explanation for all of this, the one I find most reasonable: No God, no creation, no Adam or Eve, no Garden of Eden, no free will, no sin, no fall. The creation story has more elegance and complexity than I had recalled. And I think that when it was written, it served to satisfy a need for answers to questions about origins that we did not have the tools (science) otherwise to answer at the time. But we’re way past that at this point.
© 2013 John M. Phillips